Motivation Matters

November 6, 2012

I had the opportunity to compare notes with the leader of a high school in Boston which educates a high number of non-English-speaking students – more than any other public school in that diverse metropolitan area.  My interest flows from my work with mid-Michigan’s Refugee Development Center, which provides English classes and other services for newcomers to our community.

We both have observed that, almost without exception, these students who are seeking to learn English are highly motivated – considerably more so than most other students we observe.  They come early to class and stay after class; and if class is ever cancelled, they come anyway!

We agreed that those who are attempting to revolutionize education with one overhaul or innovation or another may be missing what’s really wrong.  We don’t have a structural or systemic problem at school, we have a motivational problem at home. 

It may be fashionable for the pundits and politicians to beat up public education in the U.S., but from all around the world people are beating a path to our schools for the quality of education they cannot find elsewhere.  And displaced populations – most immigrants and refugees – arrive with motivation to learn and assimilate that puts U.S.-born students to shame.

Really, whose fault is this?  It can’t be the schools.  But schools must try to respond to the problem they are being presented.

And extracurricular activities and athletics are among the tried, tested and proven tools available to schools to help reach, motivate and educate our young people to stay in school, like school and do better in school than they otherwise would.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on on January 8, 2013.)

I try to start each new school year at the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association summer camp at Michigan State University. I talk briefly about who the MHSAA is and what it does; and then two or three dozen high school newspaper editors and writers ask me questions; and in doing so, they give me clues to what’s going on in our schools and what’s important to our students.

Several years ago, when I opened the session to questions, one young man asked: “Mr. Roberts, what’s your job?” I paused, and then said, “I guess I’m the head cheerleader for high school sports in Michigan.”

So then this precocious student asked: “Okay, what do you cheer for?”  With a briefer pause, this is some of what I said:

  • I cheer for sportsmanship that’s not merely good, but great.

  • I cheer for sportsmanship, not gamesmanship.

  • I cheer for playing by the rules, both the letter and the spirit.

  • I cheer for maximum effort to try to win each and every contest.

  • I don’t cheer for winning at any cost; I do cheer for learning at every opportunity.

  • I cheer for losing with grace and for winning with even greater grace, with humility and modesty.

  • I cheer for the lessons of victory and the even greater lessons of defeat.